Ten years ago I stumbled across the blog of a fellow who had gone to work for a small publisher I had also wanted to work for. Yes, people blogged ten years ago — they just hadn’t come up with that name yet. Dan’s page announced the Gestaltepotato, a rationalized cylindrical spud optimized for modern high-volume slicing and frying operations. It was a spoof of between-the-wars utopian/constructivist thinking in the design and engineering realms, with its drive toward standardization. It was freaking hilarious, bristling with obscure references, masterfully played. I couldn’t help but think I was one of maybe five others on the planet on precisely that humor wavelength. I emailed him, and we hit it off immediately. We exchanged about 200 emails over the years, and met face-to-face for maybe a dozen hours over a decade, as our travels permitted. It was disconcerting to spend time with him, because we were so alike in our humor, tastes, and manner that it felt like being alone. Our career paths converged, and we even commissioned custom bicycles around the same time. Our conversation became almost a vain struggle to differentiate our voices, as we did one double-take after another at new similarities uncovered. Eeriness and affection mingled. We felt like parallel souls.
We both had chronic heartburn. Our fates diverged when I learned to control mine through diet, while he developed esophageal cancer. He underwent horribly aggressive surgeries and chemotherapy, and he and his stomaphagus were declared cancer-free at one point. He and his wife adopted a little girl. They were going to visit us in San Francisco from their Seattle home last year, but had to cancel when a check-up revealed some spots. The cancer was back. Further aggressive therapy slowed, but could not stop the disease. He fought it hard with a mix of stoicism, hope, and every promising therapy available, grateful for every day he could spend with his dear wife and daughter. He never became bitter or despondent. He died Sunday, hours after my tearful bedside goodbye. He was conscious until the end. It was a relief; he looked like he had been dead for a week. If his death were written up as a movie script, particularly the last days and hours, it would be rejected as unbelievably over-the-top.
This has hit me harder than I expected it would, which is pretty hard. I’m still tearing up. I feel particularly desperate to help his wife and adorable 3-year-old daughter through unfathomable pain. I wish I had gotten to know them better before it came to this, and that we lived closer. I’ll be working on it, though. I promised my doppelganger that I would.